On Tuesday, Bay Weld broke its own record with the launch of its newest vessel, the 74-foot Goldbelt Seawolf, at the Northern Enterprises Boat Yard on Kachemak Drive in Homer. It’s the largest vessel ever built in Homer.
Six years ago Bay Weld Boats of Homer built what was then its biggest boat, the 50-foot King Island.
With the Goldbelt Seawolf, the 30-foot tall, 25-foot wide cataraman is so big Bay Weld had to build a bump-out in its plant on East End Road uphill from Northern Enterprises. The crane to launch it, Alaska Crane’s Liebherr LTM 1500, was so big it took a second crane just to assemble and rig it.
“It’s a big project for us,” said Bruce Friend, safety administrator of Bay Weld before the launch. “We really appreciate our customers that allow us to invest.”
At a launch party at the Northern Enterprises Boat Yard, Bay Weld representatives handed over the keys to owner Goldbelt Transportation, a subsidiary of Goldbelt Inc., the Juneau, Alaska, Native corporation. Goldbelt Transportation will use the 120-passenger catamaran primarily to haul freight and workers to the Kensington Mine, but the boat’s design gives it the flexibility to explore other business opportunities like whale watching tours.
The project took 11 months and 10,000 man hours to build, and employed 40 people, Friend said.
“People always say, ‘I want to move to Homer if I could find a way to make a living here,’” Homer Mayor Ken Castner said at the launch. “This is 40 jobs.”
Katherine Eldemar, vice-chair of the board of directors for Goldbelt Inc., said the corporation’s focus is on the economy of Alaska.
“We are delighted that Bay Welding is here,” she said. “They are on top of their game.”
In a press release, McHugh Pierre, interim president and chief executive officer of Goldbelt Inc., said, “We place a high value on any ability we have to contribute to the local economy through the commissioning of in-state projects wherever possible. In the same vein, we value Alaskan employment.”
Benjamin Cornell, chair of the Goldbelt Inc. board of directors, spoke of how in the 1980s Goldbelt Inc. had been in financial trouble. The company has turned around, he said, and is growing and thriving.
“We’re extremely pleased to be here in Homer and to work in Homer because this is the future,” he said.
Founder Allen Engebretsen started Bay Welding in 1974 working out of a truck when he was 24. In 1994, Bay Welding built its first boat, a 20-foot skiff, and built its 100th boat in 2013 and its 200th in 2018. The Goldbelt Seawolf is the 210th Bay Weld boat, with the company now building its 225th boat.
Bay Weld specializes in the design and construction of aluminum vessels from 20 feet on up. Bay Weld has built and sold boats to private owners, corporations, and state and federal agencies, including the Alaska State Troopers and the U.S. Forest Service.
“Bay Welding has found a niche with their small-business-oriented, direct, timely and on-budget methodology which prioritizes both in-house planning and design and hands-on interaction with clients,” general manager Eric Engebretsen said in a press release. “Out greatest niche is the design-build process that brings customers a product designed specifically for them, as well as being in Alaska for Alaska clients.”
In an email, Engebretsen said the Goldbelt Seawolf cost about $3 million to build.
“We typically keep our build cost confidential, but it’s important to note that nearly all that money stayed in Alaska,” he wrote. “That’s the big story here: Alaska businesses partnering to keep money in Alaska. We spend every dollar we can in Homer and Alaska. Its important to us and to our clients like Goldbelt Corporation (Seawolf owners) that we strive to support each other to build the Alaska economy strong.”
About 100 people, many of them working in Homer’s growing marine trades industry, attended the launch party. The launch went smoothly as crane operators delicately raised the Seawolf off cribs at the Northern Enterprise Boat Yard dock and swung it counter-clockwise to the west, turning it parallel to the dock. The crane then lowered the Seawolf toward the beach below and held it in position until the tide came in.
Capt. Clint Songer of Goldbelt Transportation will work with Bay Welding and the U.S. Coast Guard over the next few weeks as the Seawolf undergoes sea trials and safety checks to make sure it is in working order and meets USCG standards. It will then be sailed to Juneau.